FG’s Campaign of Misinformation & Disinformation on #EndSARS
- Rinu Oduala
This week will be 27 months since young Nigerians chose to push back on a murderous police force; 4 months before the end of the Buhari-led government; and 9 months before the 3rd commemoration of a state turning against its citizens by openly shooting at them at the Lekki Toll Gate. On Tuesday, December 6th 2022, the Nigerian government claimed it had implemented all the demands presented to it by #EndSARS protesters in October 2020. This was a lie intended to mislead and deceive Nigerians.
The Minister for Police Affairs, Dr. Mohammed Maigari Dingyadi said this at the public dissemination of the Post #EndSARS Research/Training of Police Oversight Agencies on Oversight Mechanisms organised by CLEEN Foundation. The Minister made such a blatantly false statement because he knew he would not be challenged publicly. However, public information tells a different story from what was presented to the public.
Recall that the 2020 #EndSARS protests were triggered by unabated police brutality against Nigerians in general, and young Nigerians in particular; especially by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) who had consistently profiled young people based on their hair style, dressing and possession of electronic gadgets including laptops and mobile phones. The hydra-headed criminal SARS unit were responsible for the disappearances and extrajudicial killings of Nigerians across the country.
Recall that the #5for5 Demands were made very simple to give the Nigerian government clear parameters to understand why Nigerians had taken to the streets in large numbers for almost two weeks.
Demand #1: Release of Arrested Protesters
Some Action. For example, in Oyo State, there are the #Oyo11 of which two were released in 2021 and the court dates for the others were perpetually adjourned. They were finally released last week from the Agodi Correctional Centre, Ibadan, under the State’s prerogative of mercy. For Lagos State, Adebayo Akinlade of Duty Solicitors Network (DSN) stated:
Some of these #EndSARS suspects, now “awaiting trial inmates (political prisoners)” are in prison custody after all. What shocks me the most is that in the last 2 years (2 Christmases and 2 new years) the following is the reality:
1. Since arraignment, most of them have not seen the inside of a courtroom.
2. On the days their cases come up, the magistrates suspiciously don’t sit.
3. No DPP advice has been submitted in some cases.
4. Where DPP advice was issued, no information has been filed at the High Court.
5. Where information has been filed at the High Court, no court has been assigned to hear these cases.
Demand #2: Justice & Compensation for Families of Victims
Some Action. 29 states and the FCT set up panels, but there’s no publicly available information on the number of cases heard about each state; compensation awarded and compensation paid. Ekiti State shared its information publicly – the panel received a total 85 petitions out of which awards were given in 50 of the cases involving various allegation ranging from loss of lives to physical injury, trauma and loss of property. The first tranche of compensation were awarded to 24 beneficiaries to the tune of 7.4 million naira before the panel concluded its assignment and hoped that the remaining recommendations to 28 beneficiaries to the tune of 13.8 million naira would be addressed and paid soon. Lagos was under the spotlight because of the killings at the Lekki Toll Gate, but the report of the panel remains a report as the state government stated it didn’t have the resources to pay out all the awarded compensation.
Demand #3: Independent Body to Oversee Prosecution of Officers
Some Action. Prosecution of police officers is done by the Police Service Commission (PSC). The PSC has historically been chaired by a retired Inspector of General of Police (IGP). This does not give public confidence in the PSC as an independent institution.
Some officers that had been indicted under different investigations were expected to be prosecuted in a show of good faith that the Buhari-administration was interested in justice, but this has still not been done two years after the protests. “Attorney-General Abubakar Malami has exonerated 33 officers of the defunct SARS unit accused of wanton crimes and various forms of human rights infractions. Mr. Malami’s office concluded that the 33 officers, who were recommended for prosecution by a presidential investigative panel chaired by NHRC chief Tony Ojukwu, had no case to answer due to lack of substantial proof against them, Punch reported citing a report from police sources.”
Demand #4: Psychological Evaluation of Police Officers, Especially Disbanded Officers before Redeployment
Some Action. It was reported that this was done with the officers in the defunct SARS after it was disbanded. However, there has been no report that this has become a system-wide process so officers that are not in the right frame of mind, do not have the opportunity to engage citizens.
Demand #5: Increase Police Salaries
Partial Compliance. The increase has been approved but some officers have complained that it has not been reflected in their salaries.
It is quite clear from the summary given above that the Minister’s statement was not only inaccurate, but given the glaring lapses, either deliberate or a function of the incompetence of the Nigeria Police Force that he was unaware that they are far below the mark.
During the protests, the defunct SARS was replaced with the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Team, but there are still men on the streets of Nigeria in SARS uniforms. Even more important, the culture of extortion, disappearances and extrajudicial killings have not abated. Over the past two years, organisations working to reduce cases of police impunity, harassment, and state-sanctioned violence—such as Connect Hub NG, HeadFort Foundation, etc, have seen an increase in the number of cases of police brutality. In 2022, Connect Hub NG received an average of three reports per day via Twitter of police brutality, not excluding extortions, arbitrary detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings, resulting in over 1,000 cases for the year!
However, more Nigerians have paid attention to Bolanle Raheem’s murder on Christmas Day in the presence of her husband and daughter. Bolanle was pregnant with twins. Though Bolanle is no longer with us, it is certain that her professional colleagues – the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) will ensure that justice is done. Unfortunately, Bolanle will not be the last. By sheer providence, a young man, Gafaru Buraimoh, was killed by a police officer from the same station two weeks prior, but his death didn’t make news. Babajide Sanwoolu, the Lagos State Governor didn’t issue a statement nor send a delegation to visit his family; President Buhari didn’t issue a statement; the Lagos Commissioner of Police said nothing and neither did the Inspector General of Police.
The contrast in responses should tell us clearly that what we have is a structural problem. For the Minister of Police to claim that the #5for5 Demands have been implemented; or for anyone to act like Bolanle’s case is an aberration, speaks to the government’s unwillingness to deal with a clearly existential issue – the safety of Nigerians in the hands of those mandated by law to protect them. The average Nigerian police officer, who is undereducated, underpaid, and underequipped, continues to act brutally towards citizens, bereft of change. #EndSARS embodied police reforms and instead of focusing on clear reforms to address impunity, lack of training, poor welfare etc, the government seems to have focused on funding a smear campaign against all #EndSARS frontliners to muddy the waters and distract.
The Nigerian government must stop misleading its people and the rest of the world about their weak and ineffective actions on the issue of police reforms and should not make the mistake of thinking the protests have stopped in any way, even though it has gone off the streets and TV screens. The repression which happened in 2020 has not weakened our resolve or will stop us from moving onto the streets constitutionally if our cries are continually disregarded.
We will not relent in our demand for accountability!
- Rinu Oduala is a human rights advocate focused primarily on issues of equity, justice, humanity and community advancement. She is a leading voice in the #EndSARS movement.